Loose Footprints For The Walk Home
A friend of mine, Nancy, runs up walls. She won't bounce off of them, or even try to run along them; she just runs up them, pushing herself up a few more inches with each attempt. At first, I was annoyed by this—hearing someone's feet slapping against your bedroom wall over and over again isn't exactly pleasant—but I learned to appreciate it for what it was.
She's always at my house, playing outside or just watching TV. My parents have accepted her as one of our own so now, when we sit down to dinner, it feels odd when she isn't there. She usually is.
Nancy and I are walking home from school when we see a man standing on the corner of my block. He's wearing a ripped hoodie and dirty jeans. I try to ignore him as best as I can but Nancy stares shamelessly. When we get to my house, I question her about him.
"Do you know that guy or what?"
"No." She looks away, fiddling with a dandelion we had picked earlier.
"You sure looked like you knew him."
"I just thought he looked familiar for a second. I don't know him." She eyes the kitchen wall and lines up. I know better than to talk to her when she's focused on a run.
The man reappears weeks later, stalking the same corner, watching us from under his hood. Same clothes. I take a closer look this time: his clothes, which I had initially thought were caked in dirt and grime, are actually a dark brown, like blueberry jam left to harden in the sun. He stands perfectly straight, his back like a board. The laces on his sneakers are undone. Nancy refuses to look.
After that, he comes back every day to watch us walk by. Every time I ask Nancy about him, she changes the subject or, especially lately, just flat out ignores me. She's made it halfway up my bedroom wall before gravity pushes her back down.
Nancy doesn't come to school one day, or the day after, then another day. She's gone for a week before she shows up without warning a few days before school is out for summer.
"And?" I ask her when we have a second to talk alone.
"Where were you?"
"And you can't answer your phone?" I try to get her to look me in the eye but she's concentrating on a loose thread in her sweater.
We walk to my house in silence; I'm fuming but still hoping she'll open up a bit. The man is no longer standing on the corner; I haven't seen him for a few days.
"Well at least your friend's finally gone home," I say bitterly.
No answer. I look back and Nancy has stopped walking. She is starting at the spot where the man usually stood.
"Who was that guy?" I realize how aggressive I sound but at this point, I don't care.
"Just someone I thought I knew."
"But your brother's dead." I'm in too deep to be sensitive now.
"Yeah, I know. I checked."
Nancy's feet thud against my bedroom wall. It takes eight steps to reach the ceiling, she tells me.